The Soviet Union and International Cooperation in Legal Matters, Part 3, Criminal Law

The George Washington Journal of International Law and Economics, January 1, 1995 | Go to article overview

The Soviet Union and International Cooperation in Legal Matters, Part 3, Criminal Law


The Soviet Union and International Cooperation in Legal Matters, Part 3, Criminal Law, by George Ginsburgs. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1994. Pp. 336. $183.00 (hardcover).

The Soviet Union and International Cooperation in Legal Matters, Part 3, Criminal Law is the third of a three-part examination of the history and current issues surrounding the cooperation of the former Soviet Union-now Russia-in international legal matters since World War II. The first two parts covered cooperation in commercial arbitration and civil law. This third edition covers Soviet bilateral cooperation with other nations in the area of criminal law, addressed by national legislation and bilateral cooperation treaties.

The work focusses on the more generic criminal offenses and avoids discussion of so-called special offenses, such as aircraft hijacking, war crimes, and status-of-forces cases. Furthermore, the author clings to the use of "the Soviet Union" and "U.S.S.R," because he believes that current Russian behavior in international legal cooperation can be expected to closely track precedent established by the former Soviet Union. According to the author, the job of figuring out what that country will do in the future, in this field, will be made that much easier by an understanding of its historical antecedents. The author points out, however, that, because of political considerations absent from the areas of commercial arbitration and civil law but endemic to matters of criminal law, the pieces of research on Soviet and anticipated Russian behavior in this area stop short of comprising an integral whole.

In Part I of the work, entitled "Jurisdictional Frame," the author describes the jurisdictional limits of Soviet criminal law during dif ferent periods of Soviet history. In the early years of Soviet Russia criminal jurisdiction followed the territorial principle, according to which the exercise of Soviet Russian criminal law extended to all crimes committed within the Russian Soviet Federaled Socialist Republic (RSFSR).

The notion of territorial criminal jurisdiction was extended as early as 1924, under Stalin, in the form of a rewritten Fundamental principles of criminal legislation of the U.S.S.R. and union republics. As a general rule, legal culpability for the commission of a crime within the territory of the U.S.S.R. was determined by the laws of the place of commission, taking into account the distinctions between the federal and republic levels of criminal governance. Russian law applied equally to those persons who had committed crimes outside the U.S.S.R. but were arrested inside Soviet territory. The author describes some of the flagrant abuses that resulted from this broad territorial principle of jurisdiction.

The book next discusses the 1958 ratification of new Fundamentals of criminal legislation of the U.S.S.R. and union republics, with a particular focus on its application to stateless persons. Finally, Part I discusses the latest set of Fundamentals of criminal legislation, those of July 2, 1991. This period, including perestroika and after, is particularly important for its interplay between the jurisdiction of the RSFSR and the newly independent republics. The author demonstrates the consequences of this interplay through anecdotal evidence, drawn from particularly bizarre cases that were the product of jurisdictional conflict between the RSFSR and a particular former Soviet republic.

In Part II of his work, "Socialist Model," the author traces the history of Soviet behavior under a socialist model of international cooperation. He cites the Soviet aversion to such cooperation in its first forty years, during which the only example of such cooperation was a legal assistance pact with Mongolia. The author points out that this aversion continued after World War II and through the so-called first generation of cooperation treaties during the 1950s and 1960s. …

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